Are Cheap Medicines Bad Medicines?

In emerging markets, often — maybe one time in 10 — we will be purchasing a dud, says Roger Bate, at the American Enterprise Institute.

In a paper published this week in the Journal of Health Economics, Bate and his coauthors tested 899 medicines, including 8 medicine types from 17 low- and median-income countries for visual appearance and disintegration, and analyzed their ingredients by chromatography and spectrometry.

  • Fifteen percent of the samples fail at least one test and can be considered substandard (and may be fake).
  • Overall, drugs that fail quality control tests are priced 13-18 percent lower than drugs that pass, and the result is statistically significant.
  • But this signal does not identify substandard and counterfeit drugs in any precise manner.

Study summary. Full study.

Comments (4)

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  1. Devon Herrick says:

    One the one hand, these cheap meds are not of the quality that Americans would prefer. But to a poor person in a developing country, they are probably far better than having to pay Western prices – or getting no medications at all.

    Something that I’ve always thought about is that since humans vary so much, slight variations in dose mean little. Body weight, metabolism, gender, activity level, foods eaten, etc. These all affect the drug being taken on a daily basis.

  2. Virginia says:

    The reason that international markets are providing us with crummy drugs is because they have not begun to compete on quality. Right now there are only two options: pay an arm and a leg here or pay half that and hope you get the right stuff.

    If we opened up the markets, we would see international providers competing on price and quality.

  3. Dude says:

    Are these the cheap drugs that seniors are ordering over the Internet?

  4. Mary Anne says:

    I don’t think it’s bad. You know, this pharmacy drug stores are just there to make sure that impoverished people can afford their medications with the same effect. Just like if we buy generic plavix.